When I First Met Ash. (June of 2018.)

[TW: Sexual assault, sexual discussion, threats with a deadly weapon, brief mention of a Hetalia phase. Any actions or dialogue that happen in Italics happened in the innerworld.]

It was May 8th, 2018. I was already having a wonderful night.

See, I’d just gotten Lost Chaos to print and was selling copies of it, alongside Zeitstück, at Tongue: Open Mic and Music Show. I’d announced the sale over the microphone. I basked in the host turning to the crowd and saying, “Only $10?” And the entire cafe chanting back, “THAT’S SO REASONABLE.”

People were giving me money! For my work! And, like every Tongue show, I was drinking a minimum of three mason jars full of pinot grigio, laughing and cheering locals on with Kieran, and hearing Melanie Goldey sing, ‘Every little thing is going to be alright! (Yeah)”

I was walking home when Arkady’s name popped up on my phone. I had a feeling of what it was about. After I said my hellos, I was proven correct. “I am calling because I have received a letter.” His voice was light, filled with excitement and practically bubbling over.

I grinned with my phone to my ear. I was walking across the soccer fields of Forsyth park, bound for Gordon Square. I knew which letter he spoke of. One that I had stamped with a wax seal of my clock symbol, one that contained the feathers of Quillby and Inkwell. One wherein I confessed that I was in love with him, for the first time, and asked if we could break reality together.

He read it silently while I was on the phone with him. I was hopping every fourth step or so in a vain attempt to contain a flurrying mix of nerves and joy. When he finally began speaking, his voice was lightly trembling with emotion. “I’m… in love with you, too. Xanthe, I would be honoured to break reality with you.”

My head was swimming and it wasn’t just the pinot. We talked the rest of the night, laughing about how we’d wanted to say those daunting five words for an entire month. It was within that same week that we planned for him visiting me in Savannah that following November, so that we would meet for the first time.

I remember telling Kaspar about it– giving them the details of what I knew of Arkady, what I had known about his longtime partner, Ash. I was telling them about how much my mood had lifted since Arkady had been in my life, how much we had in common, how much he wasn’t like Asher or April or even Avery, who I knew Kaspar wasn’t the biggest fan of. (I still loved Avery, sure, but gods knew they were somewhat of a blackhole as far as emotional support was concerned.)

“It does sound entirely ideal for you, Xanthe,” it sang brightly. “If there were to be an issue, it would most likely come from the metamour.”

I took this as a general statement. Yes, dear. Yes, polyamory, watch to make sure there is no favouritism, no jealousy. This isn’t my first rodeo, Baronex, I’m fine.

I found out years later that, no, it wasn’t a general statement regarding metamours.

Kaspar meant Ash.

It was in mid-June when Ash was slated to be at their aunt’s house in Florida. I’d heard in advance that the aunt was… well, the sort of people who fit the Florida stereotypes a little too well. Ash had flown down there but when their extended family proved too much, they rented a car and decided to try to drive from Florida to New York in one fell swoop.

I remember joking that I would wave at them as they passed by.

But then we find this:

I remember pausing. It felt somehow… wrong to meet my metamour in person before meeting the partner that connected us? Even more bizarre, it felt wrong to say no. As if refusing them would somehow set off a chain reaction of karmic retribution.

Gods, my past partners have really made me paranoid.

Arkady and I immediately convened on a phone call, where we both admitted that we hesitated and stared at this text for a full 20 seconds before reaching out to each other about it.

“I mean, I’m frustrated, because [Ash] and their family has always had the money and these opportunities to just be able to have a vacation like this, on a whim, and I have to save up my tip money over a period of months–” He took a breath. “They didn’t plan for their aunt to be a racist bitch, though…” And just like that, he talked himself out of being frustrated with them. “Yeah, I’m fine with it, just–…” He paused for a while. I was balancing my phone on my shoulder while making myself my evening salad, a process that took an entire chopped onion to complete. “I also… don’t want them to get to fuck you before I get to. If that makes sense.”

It did. I actually did not want that either. Ash had shown sexual interest in me plenty of times in our brief acquaintance, but my sex life was mostly limited to the dubious hook-ups between Kieran and I that put me vaguely more in danger each time they happened. Arkady, I already trusted implicitly, and was actually looking forward to my next sexual encounter being something I felt safe in. But Ash, I was only just getting to know. And I wanted to get better. “Yeah, I definitely get that. I’ll text them and let them know.”

And I did.

I can’t tell you the entire internal TANTRUM I had after finding this. I TOLD them ahead of time, I put down a clear boundary, but they just–
I get ahead of myself.

Ash would stay at the inn. I accomplished my usual for my out-of-town friends, giving them the Innkeeper’s special, foisting them into a room I liked personally. I first chose the Egyptian room, as that room had the most natural light and Ash was, you know, a self-proclaimed plant. They ended up being assigned to the Oriental Room, the unfortunately-named 2nd floor room that faced the courtyard.

I remember this starkly because when I first laid eyes on them in person, it was in that very room. The walls were painted startlingly crimson, there were Asian antiques all around. It reminded me a lot of– it reminded me a lot of–

I guess that bundle of red flags kind of blended in.

“I’m so glad I finally get to meet you!”

I laughed a little at their word, ‘finally.’ I think we’d only started talking two months before? It’d been Arkady that I’d been speaking to since August of 2017. Ash hugged me tightly in that room, then broke away. “Oh, I forget you’re not really used to hugs.”

“No, not really,” I admitted with a chuckle. Cotton had been in Atlanta for years by that point, hugging wasn’t Kaspar’s cup of tea, and I’d rather hug a burning bush than hug Kieran fucking Psalm.

They put their hands on both of my shoulders and stepped back to get a better look at me. “This might sound weird, but I feel like I’ve met you somewhere before.”

We did actually have a good time. I hadn’t had an opportunity to request off work, but I was more than happy to show them around my city before my shifts. They honestly got the VIP concierge treatment from me. When I had a spare moment in between guests, I snagged a cookie from the jar, climbed up onto the roof, tapped their window, and presented them with one– which endlessly delighted them. I showed them to the roof of the inn, where they could see this antique jewel sparkling out before them and they danced on the rooftop, their sundress flaring as they did their little spins.

And honestly, one of the best things about having metamours is that you’ve found another in a very exclusive fan club centered around someone you’re both in love with. I remember walking with them through Broughton Street, prattling on about our shared partner. “One of my favourite things is seeing the look on his face when he realises a dark joke landed, and then he’s just CACKLING when we’re all staring at him in horror.”

“I love all of his accents. He did a posh British one for me and I just about fainted.”

“HOW is he not making millions off of his singing voice alone?”

Ash would actually go ahead and gush about him, too. At first. “I remember one year, my grandpa died right before my birthday, and [Arkady] set up an entire birthday tea party in Mt. Hope as a surprise to cheer me up.”

Alas, that wouldn’t last for long. I think Ash actually had a built-in ‘people being nice to Arkady’ limit before needing to put a stop to that nonsense. “He hasn’t always been sweet. I remember, a few years ago, I made the comment that I felt like I was really only conventionally attractive, and he actually said, ‘Yeah.'”

There were a few other times like that throughout Ash’s ever-extending stay.

“He’s honestly so ideal for me?” I’d said. “He’s the sort of person I’d read about and dream about. It almost seems impossible that he exists.”

“He wasn’t… always so great,” Ash said that so darkly that I braced myself to hear about how deep his prior Hetalia fanboy period truly sank. “When we got our first apartment together, I was the one who had to pay for the deposit because he didn’t save up anything.”

I didn’t know, really, what to say about that. The Living Fiction’s first purchase as an adult on our own was a bottle of wine we’d accidentally smashed at a gas station. I’d lived three years as a glorified RA in a hotel because bills and rent were too stressful for me. The only therapy I’d received was a combination of wine and rewatching Sherlock. Last year, I found that I was hundreds of dollars in debt because I’d forgotten to check my checking account for a month and kept getting charged overdraft fees. Did Arkady forget to tell Ash that I’m also a disaster to the degree which has hardly been seen since the Hindenburg?

By this time, Ash had actually purchased Lost Chaos and was reading it in the luscious courtyard of the inn. Lost Chaos just also happens to be the main lore of my inworld. They’d somehow gotten it in their head that they also had a shard of Thysia’s soul, which cursed someone but also gave them soul-stealing abilities.

I highly doubted that Ash was actually ‘a Thysia.’ According to my inworld lore, there are only a maximum of three people like that on the planet at any given time and most died before the age of twenty. I was the primary exception because of my guard hellhound and because that fucking Bic lighter refused to do its job five years prior. And honestly, I didn’t want them theorizing about it because that sort of thing was a target on one’s back in ‘the other plane.’

“I can see souls, theoretically,” I offered. “Only in the other plane, typically, but I can try to give it a go out here.”

And I did. We sat across from one another on the carpet of the Oriental Room. I placed my hands on their shoulders, explained that I would need eye contact. When our eyes met, I slipped into my inworld.

Souls are landscapes, in my mind. They beheld structures, their own biomes and weather patterns. Arkady’s, when I would get the opportunity to view it later, looked to me like a foggy, Scottish moor, complete with crumbling castles, craggy cliffs, and emerald hills wherein the wind would actually sing. Kaspar’s was wintry, crystalline palace that almost seemed transparent, but would only show one their own reflection. Aberle’s was a cemetery, wherein the departed had built life for themselves, in which Death was lauded as a saviour. Ash’s was, unsurprisingly, a forest.

I tilted my head, my eyes entirely lost to the inworld, but my ears still logged into the surface.

I was mainly looking for a shard of Thysia– that thing was like a beacon, sticking out as if the sun itself had lost an arm. I would’ve been immediately been able to find it.

But, no, it was all free and clear. Phew.

Ash, not satisfied with not being The Chosen One, spoke with a frown in their voice. “Are you sure? Keep checking.”

If it were here, it would have blinded me by now.

But I did see something odd– a sandy crater in the middle of everything, where nothing grew, where there was only sand. “Something… might’ve been here, once. It’s almost like a comet hit.” That wasn’t the weird part, though. When I looked around Ash’s soul, I realised there were no wildlife. Nothing. Not the sounds of squirrels through trees, no whining of cicadas, not the buzz of a single fly.

It was a forest that was entirely devoid of life, as if the plants had been made from cloth and plaster. I was frowning, twisting my point of view and refocusing as if I were clicking on too many places on Google Maps. It was eerie. Even in Kaspar’s frigid world, you could see elk on the horizon, an arctic fox staring at you from the pine trees. But there was legitimately no life here. Not even a fucking breeze. “Sorry, I’m like… flipping it around. You might get dizzy,” I muttered.

Come on, there has to be something. A chipmunk, a swallow, a fucking slug, just anything–

Ash fell to the side. They’d “fainted.”

The surface world faded back into view. When they ‘came to’ a few seconds later, I’d told them some of what I’d found, that the crater might indicate that a shard of Thysia had been there. But there was no sign of one now.

I didn’t tell them the unutterable fact that there seemed like nothing could live there in their soul. The inworld can be, uh, pretty intuitive when my own instinct fails me.

Luckily, I was due for my evening shift at the inn anyway.

When I had gotten off of work, I invited Ash to my quarters to experience how I made friends. Which was, you guessed it, showing them Peaky Blinders. I knew that they’d already read ‘Six of Crows’ and that I could show them another rendition of Kaz Brekker and say, ‘Look, that Kaz’s name is Tommy!’

I’m apparently not the first to make the comparison.

They actually really enjoyed the show– they were practically raving about how good it was, which was only earning them bonus points in my eyes. We’d probably watched three or four full episodes by the time they started falling asleep in the chair next to me. “Oh, I… I fell asleep next to you?” They beamed up at me. “I must really trust you to be able to do that.”

Awww, how sweet. And how much that put me on edge. I kept finding myself going stiff for each hug. “I think it vaguely reminds me of Rayzel?” I confided to Arkady while texting him. Rayzel was a metamour through Asher that basically love-bombed me before calling me toxic and crazy. “I might be getting flashbacks.”

Arkady was nothing but reassuring, telling me that I didn’t have to trust everything right away. I firmly told myself to chill.

When I finally did have days off from work, we absolutely painted the town red. I’d already planned on what to do when Arkady would finally arrive, so I made sure he wouldn’t run into any spoilers for his vacation via Ash. Thus, instead of the Pirate House, we went to Bayou Cafe. Instead of Mata Hari, we went to Congress Street Up. I showed them the famous (and infamous) River St. And even better, my new metamour kept insisting on picking up the bill.

I’ve never been one to say no to someone picking up my bar tab, trust me. But the last thing I wanted was a debt to build up. And at the rate we were going, it was going to be one I couldn’t afford. We were halfway through our punch bowl at the Prohibition Museum’s speakeasy. (Yes, you read that right. I fucking miss Savannah, mates.) It said on the menu that it served 6-8, but the two of us were managing through it just fine.

“Are you sure about paying for all of this?” I asked. “My bar tabs can get… well, hilarious.”

Ash actually smirked as they finished up their third cup of punch. It was amazing, how chill with alcohol they were when I was their favourite person. “Xanthe, I have a lot of money.”

And it was true. Not only had they recently gotten 30k out of inheritance funds, but they also worked as a Licensed Massage Therapist, which could be quite lucrative. How they held onto their license for so long is a bit of a mystery, considering…

If anyone in any massage association happens to want to know who this is, I can gladly divulge.

But at this point in their life, they weren’t kidding about being somewhat loaded by millennial standards. We could’ve kept drinking all night! But curfew was calling me back to my quarters. What started out as hugs in my foyer quickly turned into attempts to try to kiss me. I turned my face away and let their lips land on my cheek. It’s not that I’m opposed to kissing friends that I’m attracted to, it was simply the fact that my mind was too locked on wondering how Arkady’s lips tasted. Any kiss would feel hollow before then.

It wouldn’t have been fair to Ash, I’d reasoned.

And hell, didn’t I even say something about not wanting–?

My brain was a pleasant slosh of alcohol. I wasn’t really quite certain if I already told them to keep things platonic or not.

“Am I wrong in the vibe that you don’t want to kiss?” Ash asked me, somewhat haltingly.

“Yeah, not on the lips. Sorry, I just–” Their lips went to my neck. Well, fair enough, I suppose. They were pulling me to them and backing against the wall, encouraging me to pin them. When I didn’t, they either fell– or feigned falling, onto my runner below and pulled me on top of them. They were already breathing hard and squirming, as if I were already touching them.

But I wasn’t.

“You’re a sadist,” they hissed as they writhed beneath me. “Do you like knowing how much I want you?”

I laughed. “I’ve never underestimated the power of flattery.” I pulled myself to my feet and helped them up as well. “Do you want to check on [Arkady]?”

Within a few minutes, we were indeed on a video call with Arkady. It started out pleasant enough– we asked him how he was, and what he had done that week. We told him about all we had done. Ash was giving him a glowing review of me and how I had shown them all around the city, including when I had snuck up to their window just to give them a cookie.

The two of them were flirting with each other, which I always loved seeing. Compersion is one of my top five favourite feelings, afterall. Arkady happened to be fidgeting with a pocketknife or switchblade on his end and, well– “Have I ever told you I’m a fan of knifeplay?” I piped up.

Arkady’s eyes brightened. He responded by playing with the knife more slowly on his end, more pointedly. “Oh yeah?” Fuck, that smirk should come with a Surgeon General warning.

Ash was looking for something in my room behind me. I could hear them behind me, but didn’t want to tear my eyes away and miss any of the show.

Then I felt the cool, sharp edge of one of my kitchen knives press against my throat. Ash’s hands were in my hair, pulling my head back. “What if I wanted to play too?” Their voice was coyly playful, like it was a scene wherein the Disney villain had walked in.

I went numb, head still spinning.

It felt too much like the inworld, where alliances could shift on a dime and I would end up with my life threatened. And I had the same response out here that I would in there. Fear was pushed so far away that it was only a distant satellite. The inworld, you’ll excuse the expression, was cut-throat. And when someone had your life in their hands, there was no saying, “Can we not?” All you could do is wait and see if you were still breathing after an interaction like this.

Arkady paused. I think he was trying to err on the assumption that this was a scene Ash and I had discussed beforehand, but his instincts, as smothered as they had been throughout the years, were telling him something was up. “]Ash],” he said warningly.

I was distantly staring at the tiny screen that reflected Ash and I. “Well, that’s one way to get to the point.” I choked out.

“I’ve got your partner right where I want them and you’re 800 miles away,” Ash said, in a flirting?????? tone. “I could always spend the night cutting them up and send you the pictures afterwards.”

“Really walking the razor’s edge, here!” I squawked. Yep, my first and foremost attempt to diffuse a situation would always be puns. I vaguely wondered if Vex was around, just in case. I didn’t see a real motive for actually killing me, but I wasn’t quite sure why any of this was happening. I was ticking off the pertinent facts in my head– that the room they rented was under their name, there were pictures of us hanging out together, there’s a witness–

Ash pulled on my hair, forcing my head further up. “What if I slit their throat right in front of you? What then?”

I’m not good at reading expression on the best of days. But Arkady had gone very still, staring at Ash, all prior playfulness gone. There was something in his eyes I hadn’t seen before, like steel hitting a boiling point. “Don’t.”

“Because I could,” Ash asserted. By this time, I was wondering if this was a power play sort of thing. I’d been told by this time that Ash and Arkady were Kings of different realms. Maybe an occasional territorial dispute over, you know, lives, was normal. “You wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.” Gods, how close this was to foreshadowing August of 2020. You wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

“You know there’s like 10 different assassins that have called dibs first, right?” I quipped.

Ash was largely ignoring my antics, but did pause and quietly ask, “Is this okay?” They tapped the blade’s edge to my jugular.

This? What is This? You mean the thing you’re already doing? “It doesn’t hurt,” I affirmed. I think they took that as overall consent. You know, halfway through. “As long as you don’t mind my wit being just as sharp.”

“How about I trade in a favour?” Arkady finally said. I looked at him and I understood. He was playing by their rules, because they understood nothing else. Which, again, was a lot like how my inworld worked. Or, how it worked after April got her sadistic hands in it.

Ash paused at that. “You sure you want to trade in a favour for them?”

“Yes,” Arkady said. I hadn’t understood exactly what was happening, but I did notice that Ash was lowering the knife. I did know I was being stood up for; defended somehow. Apparently, Ash was operating by the Fae habit of treating favours like currency, and from what it sounded like, Arkady had traded something of substantial value. I felt a distant, warm affection for him.

“How knife of you,” I said, because this was largely involuntary at this point.

“Fine.” They finally lowered the knife.

Then Arkady blinked and looked off screen. “Oh, I uh… Might have gotten a little too angry, there.” He turned the camera away from him to reveal a potted plant– something rather large and with wide leaves, shriveled, as if the tension of the situation had caused it to literally shrink.

I still don’t have a non-supernatural explanation for that.

Ash scowled. “My plant!”

BUT AT LEAST HE DIDN’T HOLD A KNIFE TO IT, ASH.

“Yes, yes, I have to go, goodbye!” Arkady’s tone was rough as his feed clicked off, robbing Ash of an audience to threaten me for. Everything seemed to be happening in the distance.

I went and got myself another drink, frowning when I found that my hands were shaking. Ash was staring at me from my living room. “You didn’t think I was actually going to kill you, did you?”

I took a sip in response. I’d stopped and gotten some sort of Moscato for them. It wasn’t really my thing, but I felt like I was running from some tangle of thoughts or another. “I didn’t really know, at the time,” I said truthfully. “I was just along for the ride.”

Ash looked hurt. It wasn’t any sort of regret that lined their features, but a profoundly wounded expression that I could have possibly assumed the worst of them… while they, again, had a knife to my throat. To cheer them up, Ash asked to cuddle on my bed. Which, yeah, I could definitely do, and the knife was, in fact, safely away from them. I finished my drink and obliged.

It wasn’t terribly long before they started kissing my neck and biting it.

Then we were back to them pulling me on top of them and writhing. I decided to be a bit more direct, for once. “Uhhh, so, [Arkady] said he didn’t want you to fuck me before he got the chance to,” I warned them, a bit awkwardly.

Ash seemed to be expecting this. “Yeah, he didn’t say anything about you fucking me.

In my drunken and terribly likely traumatized state, I found this to be reasonable. I could keep my clothes on, stay on top, and cheer them up after the ordeal of being considered a potential threat. Compromise!

After all, Ash had been Arkady’s partner for years. If either of us knew where his boundaries ended and began, it would be Ash. Well, as it turns out…

I feel shitty for being coerced into cheating, honestly.

These are, in fact, modern screenshots, by the way. How?

Because, for all of you who have been asking, Arkady has gotten in touch and let me know that he’s safe and free of Ash’s grasp.

Well, there’s a good chunk of my sanity spared. I’m told this blog helped in that endeavor and I like to tell myself that I was one of the final nails in that abusive relationship’s coffin.

It was only weeks ago when I first retold the story of the knife, though. Aberle and Sparrow were drinking with me in my kitchen and we were swapping stories of this repeat predator. It started out as mostly a funny story: “Oh, hey, did you want to hear about the bundle of red flags I missed from the beginning?”

When I was finished with this very story, both boys were staring at me with wide eyes. Sparrow’s cigarette was hanging out of his mouth, half burned away, the precarious column of ash suspended in a moment of pure symbolism.

“What the fuck?” Sparrow whispered. “Xanthe, you’re like the king of ‘going with the flow’ in the worst of ways, holy shit.”

Aberle was staring at his beer. “I dated that…” He took a bracing swig and looked at me. “Why did you never tell me about this?”

“I… think I forgot until… just now.” I poured myself another whiskey.

Aberle squinted at me. “Xanthe, you realise if you’ve had amnesia about it, it’s… probably fucked with you pretty bad.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine.” No, actually, I dissociated for the next few days and barely noticed time passing. And I definitely overdrank about it until I purged the emotions and, you know, the contents of my stomach.

And I was upset. I am upset. I’ve kept spacing out while writing this blog, I want to cry (as if I can), throw things, drink, or unadvisable combination of all three. Because I feel violated and I was violated. I laid down clear boundaries and explained that I had an unhealthy relationship with sex and Ash took that as both a challenge and an added benefit. I even forgot that I told them no and, check the dates, it took them two fucking days.

And I did have an unhealthy relationship with sex. Many CSA victims do. I’m getting better because I’m allowed to now. But gods, I could’ve gotten better so much sooner.

Ash is a predator. No one is safe around them and, as much as I would invite Avery and March to choke on glass and bleed a lot, not even They deserve the psychological damage this vile person causes. They’ve apparently long-decided they won’t or can’t get better and will prevent anyone around them from getting better as well.

But hey, at the rate this blog is going, and the amount of people that are waking up and cutting them off– they’ll never get to do this to anyone again.